How would you feel about a school reunion? Thrilled at seeing your classroom buddies or terrified of revisiting memories best left alone? Guess what, says Annaliza Davis from the front line, school cliques don’t matter when you’re 42.
It began from the sad news that one of our classmates had passed away. As this was shared on Facebook, a group formed, messages crossed and an idea surfaced of everyone getting together. Then it became a reality, with a date and a venue.
I felt a spike of terror, combined with an irresistible draw.
“So, are you going?” asked my other half, knowing that this seemingly casual question was anything but.
Let’s be clear. I had a pretty crappy adolescence. Mostly it was no worse than anyone else’s but the cherry on the cake was being told at 14 that my jaw was growing abnormally. I faced four years of heavy-duty orthodontics then an eight-hour operation to fix my face. What did this mean? Mostly, it meant that while others flirted, I fended off insults from strangers. Each year my face looked worse, so my self-worth came from determinedly getting good grades.
Understandably, I carried a lot of pent-up emotions.
Understandably, I had serious misgivings about revisiting this far-from-idyllic time.
As the date approached, images of my former self were popping up on Facebook and I had to resist the urge to delete my tags. After A-levels, after the operation, I looked normal but took years to accept it; suddenly, seeing the old face every day confirmed that for me, this reunion was a necessity, like a rite of passage bridging my two selves. (No? Too deep?)
What shall I wear?
Admit it: you’d be thinking the same. We’ve all hopefully evolved from ra-ra skirts, fluorescent socks or whatever perm-topped fashion disasters scarred your own youth but a reunion is a snapshot of you as an adult, summing up who you are now.
“You’re probably overthinking this,” said my best friend Rachel. She is one of those lovely people who seem to have no complexes at all…
“For eight hours, I spoke to directors, roofers, teachers, designers, full-time mums, a yoga instructor and even a burlesque dancer. It was amazing how we’d all branched out and I felt oddly proud, being part of it.”
I didn’t want to dress middle-aged. Even though I am.
My 12-year-old son found me among discarded items and patted my shoulder, telling me I’d look great in anything. I’ve never felt more patronised or shallow.
In the end, I pretended I’d be meeting up with a couple of friends. (Denim skirt, flat boots, navy top, job done.)
The big day
Thankfully, I first met up with Jo, a good friend from school who I’ve not seen since 2006, and chatting over tea reminded me of countless positive memories that paranoia had suppressed.
3pm. At the pub, we watched people arriving, remembering names. The background chatter grew, punctuated by shrieks of recognition and soon, the lounge was filled with 30 people swapping stories, sharing photos, commiserating and celebrating. There were hugs, giggles, affection and a fantastic sense of common ground that I haven’t felt in years.
After rapid life updates, most discussions focused on our kids, plus some “Have you heard from so-and-so?” and a few “Can you remember when?” anecdotes. And cringing over regrettable perms, Sun-In bleach and who got the most drunk at which party.
For eight hours, I spoke to directors, roofers, teachers, designers, full-time mums, a yoga instructor and even a burlesque dancer. It was amazing how we’d all branched out and I felt oddly proud, being part of it.
You’re not one of us
A few people signed up but didn’t come. I suspect they assessed the list and worried that other people from their own ‘crew’ might not be there.
Newsflash: school cliques don’t matter when you’re 42. The cool girls, sporty guys, geeks, goths, none of those labels applied any more – we were all in it together. It was peculiar. This sense of belonging in a room of 40 people was especially meaningful to me, having lived abroad for 11 years. I loved it.
Who are you, really?
Banish the paranoia. Every teenager is angst-ridden, it’s in the job description. Besides, by 40, everyone’s endured their own traumas.
Apparently, I’d always had ‘a wicked sense of humour’, which I thought had only flourished since looking normal. A few people remembered me as ‘seriously clever’ – gratifying for the ego but I put them straight by confessing that no, I’d always just worked extremely hard.
Not a single person said, “Crikey, you look better after that op”; instead, most people exclaimed, “Wow, you haven’t changed a bit,” which threw me completely. One guy even said, “I remember you mentioning an operation after A-levels. Did you ever have that?”
Would you go?
If you get the chance, go. I’d been distracted over not being my true self as a teenager and how my face had changed. Oh get a grip. No one is her true self as a teenager. And seriously, in 25 years, everyone’s face has changed.
The whole experience reminded me how we all compare our worst inner anxieties to other people’s best outward show. Literally facing reality helped bridge the gap between my uneasy memories and the life I have now, where I’m comfy in my own skin. Pretty much everyone looked like they used to and everyone looked really well. So, on some level, I must have been expecting – and hoping – that everyone would look significantly fatter and older than me, just to boost my self-esteem. But admit it, that’s what would make a truly perfect school reunion.
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Annaliza Davis is run by her own business that involves magazine features, translation and many, many Post-It notes. Finds joy in: tea, pyjamas, family film night, inappropriate jokes and singing along to London Grammar.